Why Does My RV Water Smell Like Sulfur? – 4 Ways to Fix It


Picture this. You pull up to your campsite and get your RV hooked up to power and city water. After your tanks are full, you turn on your faucet, and it hits you: your water smells like rotten eggs, but why? More importantly, how do you make that rancid smell go away?

If the stinky sulfur smell comes from your cold water, it could indicate the presence of sulfur bacteria in your water source or freshwater tank. Fortunately, here are several methods to fix the problem:

Flush Your Water Heater Regularly

The most common way to combat that unbearable sulfur smell coming from your tap is to flush your water heater tank regularly. This ensures that all the sediment that bacteria love to consume stays out of your water heater, and the stench they produce stays out of your RV.

Flushing your water heater consists of the following steps:

Step #1: Turn off the heater by setting the electric and gas switches to the off position.

Step #2: Open the hot water taps on your faucets or take a long hot shower to drain any hot water from the heater tank.

Step #3: Close the water supply valve to your RV and set the water pump power switch to the off position.

Step #4: Open all the hot water taps in your RV.

Step #5: Locate and open the hatch to your water heating unit.

Step #6: Open the pressure relief valve on the top of your water heater.

Step #6: Carefully unscrew the drain plug from the bottom of your heater tank. If your unit has a sacrificial anode rod, now is a good time to inspect and replace it if necessary.

Step #8: Flush the inside of your water heater tank by opening the water supply valve. Additionally, you can use a flushing rod attached to a hose to more thoroughly remove the deposit build up in your tank. Continue to flush until the water coming from the drain outlet is clear and free of debris.

Step #9: Close the water supply valve.

Step #10: Using a good thread sealant, reinstall the tank’s drain plug or anode rod and close the pressure relief valve.

This video by Just Plain Common Sense does a great job detailing the process of flushing and refilling your RV water heater tank.

Treat Your Heater Tank with Vinegar

While regularly flushing your tank is a great way to keep loose deposits from building up at the bottom of your unit, sometimes, a more in-depth cleaning may be required.

This is especially true if you are also looking to get rid of buildup from the heating element itself, as it is much more stubborn than the small pieces of settlement at the bottom of the tank.

Treating your water heater tank with vinegar can be accomplished by following this procedure:

Step #1: Prepare a mixture of two parts vinegar to one-part water. Be sure to make enough to fill the tank on your water heater.

Step #2: Turn off electricity, gas, and water to the water heater unit.

Step #3: Allow the water in the tank to cool before continuing to prevent burns.

Step #4: Carefully open the pressure relief valve and remove the drain plug/anode rod.

Step #5: Let the tank drain fully and replace the drain plug or anode rod.

Step #6: If you have a winterization kit installed on your RV, you can use it to siphon your water and vinegar mixture into the water heater until it flows out from the relief valve. If not, attach a length of tubing to a funnel and insert the opposite end into the relief valve to fill the tank.

Step #7: Once your tank is full, close the relief valve and turn the water heater on.

Step #8: Keep your water heater on for 4 to 5 hours while still filled with your vinegar mixture before turning it off and carefully draining the tank.

Step #9: Thoroughly flush the tank with fresh water to remove buildup and clear any residual vinegar from the tank.

Step #10: Replace the drain plug or anode rod and fill it with fresh water as usual.

This process can be completed without turning on your water heater, but it will increase the time needed to break down deposits.The combination of heat and vinegar is the perfect recipe to get rid of the unwanted buildup that helps to produce a very unwanted stink. 

It is also important to note that while vinegar is great at cleaning the inside of your water heater tank, it WILL NOT sanitize your water system. (Source: campergrid.com)

Use A Bleach and Water Mixture to Clean Your Freshwater Tank

If your smelly water problem isn’t limited to your hot water or your RV hasn’t been used for a while, your freshwater tank may be in need of sanitization.

A great method of accomplishing this is through a simple bleach treatment, although it is not recommended to pour straight bleach into your freshwater tank.

The following dilutions should be used instead:

Tank SizeBleachWater
40 Gallons1 Cup4 Gallons
60 Gallons1 1/2 Cups6 Gallons
100 Gallons2 Cups8 Gallons

(Source: rvshare.com)

Once you have your diluted bleach mixture prepared, the following steps should be followed to sanitize your tank:

Step #1: Drain your freshwater tank.

Step #2: Add your bleach and water mixture to your freshwater tank.

Step #3: Top off the tank with freshwater.

Step #4: Open all of your RV faucets individually until you can smell the bleach from each of them.

Step #5: Open all of your RV faucets at the same time and allow them to run until your tank is empty.

Step #6: Refill your tank with freshwater and leave it overnight.

Step #7: Open all faucets to drain the tank.

Step #8: Continue to refill and drain your freshwater tank using the faucets until you can no longer smell the bleach.

This method eliminates any bacterial build up from inside your RV freshwater tank and can help to ensure that your nose stays happy during your adventures.

Drain Your Water Tanks When Storing Your RV

While it may not solve a current wave of smelly water, draining both your freshwater and water heating tanks between uses is an important part of RV maintenance, which can go a long way towards making sure that your water stays stink-free for future outings. 

That greatly reduces the ideal environment for sulfur bacteria to grow and thrive, thus reducing the amount of hydrogen sulfide gas being produced. It also extends the life of your water heater tank since there is no longer any water.

A Breath of Fresh Air

As any serious RV enthusiast will tell you, the rotten egg smell coming from your tap is a common part of RV life, but armed with a little knowledge, elbow grease, and preventative maintenance, it does not have to be a part of yours!

Now that you have a better understanding of what’s causing your RV water to stink and a few methods to remedy the situation, you are ready to get out there and tackle the open road.

Who knows what adventures are waiting for you? So, take a deep breath of fresh air, and let your nose enjoy the time spent in your home away from home as much as you do!

Source: Minnesota Department of Health

ROTTEN EGG SMELL in the RV hot water! >> Check out the video below:

Mike Gilmour

Hi, I'm Mike, co-founder, and editor of RV and Playa. My passion is traveling (with my RV) and enjoying the day at the beach (Playa)! Well, I originally created this blog as a way to share what I've learned by experimenting with the RV lifestyle, and I want to help others develop in life through new skills and opportunities.

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